Meredith's Reviews > Colonel Brandon's Diary

Colonel Brandon's Diary by Amanda Grange
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's review
Dec 07, 11

bookshelves: 2011, austen-esque, brits, historical-fiction, romance
Read from November 02 to 07, 2011

Originally published on The Librarian Next Door:

Of all of Jane Austen’s heroes, Colonel Brandon is perhaps the most mysterious. Henry Tilney and Mr. Knightley tend to say exactly what they are thinking; Edmund Bertram is dull, but not exactly the keeper of hidden secrets; Captain Wentworth’s feelings are laid bare in the letter he leaves for Anne; and Mr. Darcy – well, we all know about Mr. Darcy. Colonel Brandon, however, is a different story. Since Sense and Sensibility gives us two central romances – Elinor and Edward and Marianne and her entanglements – we don’t always know what’s going on with every character. And while Austen does fill in some of Brandon’s background during a conversation with Elinor late in the book, he remains brooding and undemonstrative for most of the novel.

Author Amanda Grange sets out to change all that with Colonel Brandon’s Diary, a look at the events during and leading up to Sense and Sensibility through the good colonel’s eyes. Grange is one of the most prolific Austen-esque authors writing today and she’s written a whole series of “diaries” from the perspectives of Austen’s heroes. Interestingly, when it came to Sense and Sensibility, she chose Brandon over Edward Ferrars, rightly sensing that his story was much more dramatic than Edward’s ill-fated engagement to Lucy Steele.

Grange begins Colonel Brandon’s Diary by filling in the details of Brandon’s youth, most notably his early love for his father’s ward, Eliza, and their burgeoning relationship. The Colonel Brandon who appears in Sense and Sensibility seems reserved and closed off, as if he was wearied by life itself. Grange imagines a younger Brandon as someone full of life and vitality, much like Marianne. It’s only when his father cruelly forces Eliza to marry his older brother that Brandon begins to lose his joy and happiness. Grange’s novel follows Brandon as he embarks upon a military career, finds the destitute Eliza and her child, and starts to rebuild his life in England after years of unhappy memories. Then readers are taken into familiar territory when he finally meets the Dashwood family and becomes acquainted with Elinor and Marianne.

The story is well-known, but seeing situations and events from Brandon’s perspective gives it new life. In Grange’s creation, Brandon is determined to never marry, believing he cannot and will not find anyone to replace his beloved Eliza, but discovers that Marianne re-awakens his zest for life. It’s interesting to watch Brandon struggle to remain indifferent, especially under the eyes of the ever-watchful Mrs. Jenkins. It’s clear that Marianne stirs up something in Brandon, but he’s also overly cautious and afraid of showing too much emotion too soon, having been burned by his previous experience with passion and love. It’s heartbreaking to watch him watch Marianne fall in love with Willoughby, even knowing what the ultimate outcome will be.

Grange’s Colonel Brandon is much like Austen’s: upstanding, honorable and good. But by imagining his youthful relationship with the equally young Eliza, Grange provides new insight into how Colonel Brandon became Colonel Brandon. I found that I liked learning of his flaws and his mistakes. It somehow made Brandon seem more human and less tragic. The Colonel Brandon who falls in love with Marianne has learned from his past and above all, wants her to be happy more than he wants his own happiness. I was also surprised by the strong friendship depicted between Brandon and Elinor. Austen didn’t expand upon that as much, but here, Grange portrays them as close friends, each attempting to help the other.

When we know a story as well as we do, it’s tempting to think we know everything there is to know about the characters and their intentions and motivations. But this isn’t always the case, which makes it fun and exciting when we can view a familiar story with fresh eyes. In Colonel Brandon’s Diary, Amanda Grange does an admirable and entertaining job of shedding new light on the mysterious Colonel Brandon and gives readers a new perspective on the Sense and Sensibility story.

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11/03/2011 page 82
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